A District Court judge for the Southern District of New York has ruled that former Congressman Devin Nunes’ defamation lawsuit against NBCUniversal over an alleged relationship with a suspected Russian agent can proceed.
Nunes filed the legal action after MSNBC host Rachel Maddow claimed that he never handed over to the FBI a package he received from pro-Russia Ukrainian legislator Andriy Derkach, and U.S. District Judge Kevin Castel wrote in his 22-page decision that Nunes’s attorneys had “plausibly allege[d] actual malice” in the case, according to Reuters, which further noted Castel did not rule on the merits of the claim.
The judge, a George W. Bush appointee, said Maddow did not attribute Nunes’ alleged refusal to any source, and that while she might have known about a similar accusation in a Politico article, “a court does not weigh competing, plausible theories of actual malice on a motion to dismiss,” Reuters reported.
NEW YORK (Reuters) – A U.S. judge on Monday said Devin Nunes, the former California congressman and an ally of former U.S. President Donald Trump, can sue NBCUniversal for defamation over a comment by Rachel Maddow concerning his relationship with a suspected Russian agent.
— DaneG (@Dane__Garcia) November 29, 2022
The Republican politician has been pursuing the case for the past year — Maddow made the claim on the March 18, 2021 broadcast of “The Rachel Maddow Show” while Nunes was ranking member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. The lawsuit was filed against NBCUniversal, and Maddow is not a defendant in the case.
“Andriy Derkach is sanctioned by the U.S. government as a Russian agent. He is singled out by name by the Director of National Intelligence as someone under Vladimir Putin’s direct purview who helped run this organization targeting our election last year,” Maddow said. “Congressman Nunes accepted a package from him. What was in it?”
“Congressman Nunes has refused to answer questions about what he received from Andriy Derkach,” she continued. “He has refused to show the contents of the package to other members of the intelligence community. He has refused to hand it over to the FBI which is what you should do if you get something from somebody who is sanctioned by the U.S. as a Russian agent.”
In another alleged defamatory act, Nunes’ complaint highlighted this quote from Maddow: “Still, the Republicans have kept Mr. Nunes on as the top Republican on the Intelligence Committee. How does that stand? How does that stay a thing?”
NBCUniversal moved to dismiss Nunes’ complaint on a number of grounds, with Law & Crime reporting that Castel “sided with the defense in all but one instance. As a result, Nunes’ lawsuit will now move toward trial, but only on one of Maddow’s statements.”
The outlet said NBCUniversal argued that the complaint should be dismissed “both because Maddow’s comments about Nunes were ‘substantially true,’ and also because Maddow was expressing an opinion rather than a fact.”
“As an alternate argument, NBCUniversal argued that its broadcast was covered by New York State’s ‘fair reporting privilege.’ This privilege provides a total defense to any entity that reports on a judicial, legislative, or other official proceeding, so long as the reporting provides ‘fair and true’ coverage of the proceeding,” Law & Crime reported. “To establish liability for defamation, a plaintiff must prove that a defendant made a false statement of fact about them and that the publication of the statement caused financial harm.
“A public official, such as Nunes, however, can only recover defamation damages if the statements in question were made with “actual malice” — meaning that they were made with knowledge of their falsity with reckless disregard for their veracity.”
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